Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future

 

Library of Congress, 1910-15. Photogragher unknown. No known copyright restrictions.

Looking into the future is pretty much about observing existing trends and trying to determine which one will make an impact. It does not mean keeping track of everything that happens day by day and being constantly up to date with the latest news - on the contrary it is about attentiveness, analysis and other things that take even more time.
Since many of us find it difficult to find enough time for that in everyday life, fortunately there are others who are willing to share the results of their studies. Center for the Future of Museums by the American museum association (AAM) presented their first large trend report a few months ago.
Museums and the Pulse of the Future is an easy accessible and educational report well worth reading. It is a brief report full of links to inspiring examples of museums that are able to catch up and respond creatively to new trends. Each section also imposes explicit questions about what trends mean for a society, and more specifically for the museum sector. Good! ICT is, of course, a principal element in all areas but there are two trends that are more directly related to the Digisams scope of practice. As the technology is universal, as is the Internet due to its very nature, there is a good reason to expect that these trends will also have an impact in Sweden (and not only in museums).


Every little helps ...
Everyone is talking about crowdsourcing, but what does it really mean? It is about collecting small contributions from many participants and is something more than interactive interfaces and a dialogue with an audience. Today's technology creates new opportunities for a huge number of amateur experts to contribute to the institutions' public information resources with their knowledge. They can improve the quality of museums' data with their specialised knowledge in areas such as ornithology or steamers, but also with personal based knowledge about such things as places and people in old photographs. In addition, there are time-consuming tasks  that need no expertise at all, rather the assistance of many people - such as NASA space images and Finnish Digitalkoot's transcription.
 
The possibilities are endless, but, as usual, new opportunities carries with them new challenges. The new approaches and practices are challenging traditional institutions and a number of established business models. At the same time it is estimated that visitors will expect more and more of topic overview and reliable knowledge. Therefore museum experts need to find positive ways to interact with the experts outside of the museum walls, in order to improve the broad-spectrum knowledge at the museums.

Look at what is not there
Augmented reality (AR) is a generic term for technologies that make it possible to add digital image, audio or video elements to the reality as you experience it, for example, through your smartphone. In combination with positioning technology (GPS) it can create unique opportunities, including new ways to reconnect museums of art and cultural resources to the places they once came from. Street Museum Londinium and NAI's Urban Augmented Reality are just a few examples of this trend that is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. As more and more people are walking around with a smartphone in their pocket - especially in Sweden – there is an increasing interest from commercial operators, but also there is a great potential for cultural institutions using AR for further enhancement of knowledge and experience. It can be used for advanced games but equally for simple solutions such as big virtual chunks of text on the walls of an exhibition.
There's a lot to think about. Can AR be useful for anyone who wants to meet a multilingual audience with various needs and interests in the best way? Will technology contribute to genuine interaction or have the opposite effect: turn away users from the actual experience and isolate them from each other? And there is also a risk of building so much on the visitors' own devices (phones and tablets) - what happens to those who have none?

The institutions need to make up their own minds on such issues, and the answers are probably partly reliant on the ongoing development. Nevertheless, there is much to gain from trying to look ahead. The future will come whether you gaze into it or not, but you will be better prepared for it if you take a bit of time to look into the new possibilities it might bring.

 

Johanna Berg, Digisam

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